by FRANK GORMLIE on AUGUST 7, 2012
This is an Open Letter to President Barack Obama Calling on him to legalize marijuana.
If you legalize marijuana, Mr. President, you’ll get the youth vote and win the 2012 Presidential election. It’s as simple as that. However you do it, Mr. President, if you legalize cannabis, you’ll then do for the young of this country what you did for the Mexican-American and Latino populations, and then what you did for the gay and lesbian communities earlier this year.
How is this so?
It just so happens, that here in the midst of campaign 2012, the issue of marijuana legalization and the status of medical cannabis have perhaps paradoxically both become highly charged topics. Legalization initiatives are on three state ballots, there’s a whole array of other reform measures up for vote, and there’s polls that show a majority of Americans support straight-out legalization of pot – all that makes this year 2012 an historic year for marijuana reform.
But you wouldn’t know it by watching the campaigns of Governor Romney and President Obama. Both candidates continue to avoid talking about marijuana legalization, and Romney evenchastised a reporter in Colorado recently for bringing up the subject – it’s on the state ballot. Both candidates apparently believe it’s a non-issue. Yet they do so at their own peril. As the more likely candidate to support marijuana reform, Obama, would win if he came out publicly for its legalization.
They won’t be able to ignore it much longer. For, everywhere we look, we’re surrounded by the so-called controversies – whether legal, moral, or medical – involving smoking a 2,000 year old herb, that grows as a weed.
Check these out:
- San Diego area US Attorney Laura Duffyweighed in on a proposed ballot measure to regulate medical marijuana collectives in Del Mar, by threatening to prosecute State and City employees who issue land use licenses to medical marijuana collectives. The local ACLU told Duffy to back off.
- A marijuana dispensary here in San Diego is suing the federal government in a direct legal challenge to the Feds current crack-down on California medical cannabis dispensaries.
- The recent hoax by Americans for Safe Access that snared several newspapers with the false report that the US Attorney in San Diego was going after pharmacies for illegal sales of drugs was intended to draw attention to the irrational crack-down;
- There have been more traditional types of protests against the crackdown up and down the State of California in late July; there were demonstrations in San Diego; Los Angeles and Oakland.
- The City of Los Angeles in late July passed a resolution banning all marijuana dispensaries to a great outcry and threats of more legal action and civil disobedience.
When President Obama attended a recent fund-raiser in Oakland , there was a protest of herb supporters outside the site;
- While city, county and state – and even Washington – budgets are stretched thin, California, other states and federal resources continue to be wasted in investigating, prosecuting and imprisoning violators of the drug laws – pushing them into already packed jails; and now dispensary deliveries are being prosecuted as “sales”.
- There are also growing concerns that another generation – legally forbidden from using marijuana – is turning to dangerous alternatives, like pills and such things as bath salts.
- More young people smoke pot than cigarettes, the Center for Disease Control reports. This trend began in 2011.
- Meanwhile, Latin American leaders – their countries at the front lines of a failed War on Drugs – call for legalization of certain drugs, like marijuana for personal use. (For more details, see below.)
- There are current estimates of 20 to 30 million pot smokers in America, helping to float a $30 billion illegal and legal market; nearly 96 million American adults have used marijuana.
- Finally, there is just the wholesale hypocrisy of the promises the President made during his 2008 campaign with this recent Federal crackdown on medical cannabis and their clinics. Four years ago, he spoke out in favor of marijuana reform law, pledging to cease utilizing “Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws” on medical cannabis – which he has since broken.
Could it be – contrary to popular punditry – that the economy isn’t the only key issue in this Presidential campaign, but that a very significant issue now is that of the legalization of marijuana?
Back to the basic premise of this Open Letter: if President Obama legalized marijuana, he would get the youth vote and win the election in November; okay, assuming that if he did that – legalized marijuana or medicinal marijuana – however he did it – and putting aside the question of whether he would then get the youth vote – isn’t it just too politically risky for the President to come out for pot? Why would he risk the election on this drug issue?
The answer to this query is “no”, an emphatic no –, and here’s the crux of the issue – it is now no longer politically risky for President Obama to come out publicly in favor of legalizing the herb – either for straight legalization or a more qualified one for medicinal cannabis.
The reasons that it is no longer politically risky coming out in support for pot are multiple; there has been a significant shift in American public opinion on legalization; state governments are more and more moving to decriminalize and enact other reforms; there’s the abject failure of the drug war; the calls for legalization for personal use by many if not most Latin and Southern American leaders; there’s pressure for reforms from the medical and scientific communities; and the fact that even the White House is interested in medicinal herb for returning soldiers with PTSD.
Shift in Attitudes for Pot Legalization Reflected in Polls
First, Americans in recent years have gone through a tidal change in how they perceive marijuana and its legal status. There’s been a dramatic turn in public opinion where now most Americans are okay with its legalization. This is first time in our modern history that there has been this kind of level of public support – massive public support – for ending the prohibition of cannabis and replacing it with a much more humane system of legalization and regulation. It could be the end is near for America’s nearly century-long prohibition of marijuana.
American opinions can be viewed by what they say in polls, and the state politicians they support who are moving – many of them – on the state government level – to decriminalizing marijuana. And what do the polls tell us? There have been a number of national high profile polls that demonstrate that Americans strongly favor ending the war on weed.
Gallup took a poll in the Fall of 2011, and reported that for the first time ever in all their polling since 1969, more Americans support the legalization of the adult use of cannabis than support its prohibition. This is a dramatic shift in opinion. In contrast, in 1969, in Gallup’s first survey on voters’ attitudes toward the herb, they found only 12 percent supported legalizing it. Even in the late Seventies, public support for cannabis legalization never went over 30 percent in polls, even though this was a period when a number of state legislatures decriminalized minor marijuana possession charges to fines, and reduced related felonies to misdemeanors.
Over the last ten years, this tidal shift in American opinions has been reflected in Gallup’s increasingly year-to-year attitudinal increase in support. It’s not just Gallup polls. Rasmussen Reports conducted polls and posted their results this past May. They affirmed the Gallup findings. Rasmussen found that 56% of Americans supported “legalizing marijuana and regulating it like alcohol or cigarettes”, with only 34% against. Rasmussen reported that this attitude was shared in every age group they polled – even those 65 or older.
A Canadian poll also confirmed these trends. Polling firm Angus Reid reported in June that a good majority of American voters – both Democrats and independents – supported legalization. Angus Reid has conducted four such polls, all in consecutive fashion and all reported over 50% of Americans in support of legalizing pot.
There’s even a recent Rasmussen Reports poll in Colorado – one of the states where legalization of marijuana is on the November ballot – that shows 61 percent of voters support cannabis legalization versus 27 percent who don’t.
State Legislators Move on De-Criminalization
With the current Federal crack-down and ostensible stall in Congress of pot reform, it’s clear that the response to this tidal shift in public and voter opinion is not being reflected in Washington, DC. But it is finding resonance among state legislators. Across the country many politicians are responding for the first time to the growing clamor to reform pot laws. They’re figuring out that being pro-pot gets votes. Marijuana reform is in the air in Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Colorado, Texas, Montana, North Carolina, Washington, Chicago, and New York City.
- Pot legalization is on the November ballot in three states: Colorado, Washington, and Oregon. Colorado’s Amendment 64 is seen as having the best chance of passing; it would simply treat marijuana like alcohol in terms of regulation, requiring licenses for producers and sellers, a 21-age limit for buyers, and tax revenue for government. The first $40 million generated will go – if it passes – to public school construction.
- Rhode Island state lawmakers voted in June by more than 2 to 1 to approve legislation decriminalizing the possession of marijuana (now a civil fine) for anyone age 18 or older.
- Last Spring Connecticut lawmakers from both major political parties supported legislation authorizing the limited legalization of cannabis.
- New Hampshire legislators – including Republicans – voted overwhelmingly for a medical marijuana law reform, which was then vetoed by Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat.
- In contrast, Democrats in other states – including Colorado, Montana, North Carolina, and Washington – have recently adopted pro-marijuana reform language into their party platforms.
- Iowan Democrat Party delegates at their June convention passed a resolution supporting medicinal cannabis.
- Texas Democrats endorsed legalizing weed with this resolution: “Marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco. … There is no evidence that marijuana is a “gateway” drug leading to the use of more lethal drugs. … Texas Democrats urge the President, the Attorney General and the Congress to support the passage of legislation to … regulate its (marijuana’s) use, production and sale as is done with tobacco and alcohol.”
- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo publicly endorsed a plan to draw down the annual 50,000 pot arrests made by New York City police.
- Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel now backs a municipal legislative effort to decriminalize marijuana possession offenses. The Chicago City Council responded in a huge vote in favor: 43 to 3.
- And don’t forget that 14 states – including California and Massachusetts – have already decriminalized marijuana, where penalties for possession are greatly reduced, but continue a ban on production, distribution and sales.
There has been some movement in Congress. A handful of politicians from both parties – including Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Barney Frank (D-MA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), James Moran (D-VA), Ron Paul (R-TX), Jarel Polis (D-CO), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), and Peter Stark (D-CA) – have been supportive of marijuana reform laws. And importantly none of them have experienced any kind of substantive negative backlash from their constituencies for their pro-pot stances.
In 2011 Barney Frank and Ron Paul introduced the first federal legalization bill – but it hasn’t gone anywhere. Another one of Frank’s bills on pot enforcement by the Federal government has been stalled since 1997.
“Congress is several years behind the general public on this,” said Rep. Jarel Polis, a pro-pot reform Democrat from Colorado. But change is occurring even in Congress. When he first came to Washington three years ago, only “a handful” of legislators would stand up for pot reform, Polis added, but today, most Democrats support it.
On the other side of the Congressional aisle, many Republicans don’t support marijuana reform. One of the few Republicans who does, Dana Rohrabacher from California, admitted, “I’ve been very disappointed with my fellow Republicans on this issue.” He believes that more of his GOP buddies would vote for reform if there was a secret ballot, as many of them are small-government advocates and states-rights proponents, and think enforcing marijuana laws is a waste of tax monies, but are afraid to say so in public.
The Dis-Connect in Washington, Lack of Support for Recent Crack-Down, and a Failed Drug War
Despite these stirrings in Congress to make pot less criminal, the disconnect in Washington grew to high relief just recently, when the House of Representatives voted 262 to 163 to kill a budget amendment that called for an end to the use of taxpayers’ monies spent to force states to act in compliance with federal laws and against state-approved medical cannabis projects.
And more, as has been obvious in recent months, the US Justice Department nation-wide crack-down on medical marijuana providers and dispensaries – all allowed under state laws – has US Attorneys busy shuttering cannabis shops up and down California. In Delaware, the Feds have gone even further. In their efforts to block state authorization of medicinal cannabis programs, the Feds have even threatened to arrest and prosecute state employees involved in their state’s regulation of medical-pot providers.
Yet, Americans don’t support the administration’s recent clamp down on medical marijuana. According to a Mason Dixon poll of likely US voters conducted in May 2012, virtually no Americans support the crack-down. 74% think that the Obama administration should “respect the medical marijuana laws” in those states that have legalized its use, cultivation, and distribution. This high number included 3 out of 4 Democrats and two-thirds of all Republicans. Only 15 percent support the crack-down.
Everyone but Washington knows that the Drug War is over – that it has failed. That Angus Reid poll cited earlier also found that two-thirds of Americans believe the drug was is futile. The U.S. government still arrests people for using pot and other illicit substances. But no one continues under the illusion that somehow Washington will “win” the war. It is a waste of precious humans, of scarce dollars and other resources, like credibility.
European Countries Ignore US Pressure and Latin American Leaders Want Legalization
American pot smokers have long known that certain European countries – like the Netherlands – have much more open and humane policies towards marijuana. Governments on that continent proved long ago that they are independent of the US with respect to drug laws and policies; they have historically ignored pressure from the US on this issue. The Netherlands, Portugal, Britain, and Switzerland have various forms of legalization.
The big news, however, is from leaders of Latin American countries and how they now perceive the war on drugs.
Consider the views of the leaders – past and current – of Mexico – a country that is embroiled in efforts to physically eradicate drug lords and their empires and has suffered more violence than any other country for these military actions. Former president Vicente Fox is from the most conservative main party – the National Action Party – and as head of government, years ago proposed the decriminalization of the personal use of cocaine, heroin, and cannabis. His proposal was met with such a howl of protest by – not Mexican legislators but by American ones – that the proposal went down in flames.
Recently, Vicente Fox declared: “Prohibitions don’t work, and the last remaining frontier of prohibition is drugs, and we should question ourselves why drugs.” He currently advocates “legalization all the way — all drugs and in all places.” In 2009 Mexico decriminalized personal possession of cocaine, heroine, LSD and pot.
The current President, Felipe Calderon, stated in June that he wants the US to implement “market solutions” as a way to avoid the violence taking place across his country in the drug war that he himself has vigorously pushed during his administration.
After his election this summer, president-elect Enrique Pena Nieto publicly admitted that the war on drugs is “not working,” and while not in favor of legalization, he advocates for a new debate on how to deal with drug trafficking, as he believes there is now “more drug consumption, drug use and drug trafficking” than there were even after years of the fighting them. Pena Nieto criticized Washington for spending decades in attempts to curtail illicit drug use, pushing a drug war, that by almost every “measurable objective” he says, has failed in America.
Other countries throughout Latin America have been creating drug reforms. In 2009, Argentina’s Supreme Court issued a ruling that that stated punishing citizens for personal use of marijuana was unconstitutional. Also that year, current drug policies were denounced as an expensive and deadly failure by the prestigious and influential Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy. The former presidents of Mexico, Columbia, and Brazil sit on the Commission and all came out publicly advocating for decriminalizing drug use.
Since then, the presidents of Costa Rica and El Salvador called for drug law reform and open discussion of legalization. And at the April Summit of the Americas attended by President Obama, the Guatemalan president who had made the fight against crime the hallmark of his campaign, helped to raise the issue of legalization during the meeting. He agrees that the drug war had failed – and more – he believes “consumption and production should be legalized.”
Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica just this past June proposed legislation to legalize pot, and called on other nations to consider legalization. Under his proposal, the government would sell pot to Uruguayans, and use the monies for drug treatment and rehabilitation. The president explained: “We are doing this for the young people, because the traditional approach hasn’t worked.”
Uruguay’s defense minister advocated for the measure, citing the violence caused by prohibition creating “more problems than the drugs themselves.” Here’s the minister’s enlightened quote:
Financial “corruption is affecting Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala, on a greater scale, and now it is coming to Ecuador and Brazil. We don’t want our country to follow this route.”
It is telling what is going on in Colombia right now, the site of that April Summit of the Americas. This month, their government gained authorization from the nation’s Constitutional Court for the decriminalization of personal use of cocaine and marijuana. Treatment would be offered, not prison. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said the goal of this proposal is to halt profits made by violent drug gangs and cartels:
“If that means legalizing and the world thinks that’s the solution, I would welcome it.”
That country’s former president also weighed in:
“We cannot be condemned to live in war because Americans do not want to talk about it. No one speaks in favor of the war on drugs.”
Obama of course was at that Summit of the Americas and he was embarrassed by these open calls for legalization by his Latin American counterparts. He criticized the idea of legalization, but did seem willing to look at whether US government drug policies were “doing more harm than good in certain places.” President Obama also added:
Given the pressures a lot of governments are under — under resourced, overwhelmed by violence — it’s completely understandable that they would look for new approaches, and we want to cooperate with them.
One of the reasons for Obama’s embarrassment is because his administration has been upping the ante in the drug war, increasing direct American participation in the anti-drug efforts. A DEA agent killed a Honduran citizen in June during a raid, as armed US personnel have increased their on the ground involvement and are getting into fire fights with narco-traffickers.
Drug Czar Says White House Is Interested in Medical Marijuana … for the Troops
Perhaps cracks are beginning to appear in the Obama’s armored White House stance on legalization. Recently, his drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, came out and said that the White House is …:
“interested in the potential marijuana may have in providing relief to individuals diagnosed with certain serious illnesses. That is why we ardently support ongoing research into determining what components of the marijuana plant can be used as medicine.”
Kerlikowske made these comments on the White House website in response to a petition requesting that the Obama administration change its rules to allow disabled vets to use medical cannabis as treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
In his statements, the drug czar continued to emphasis that smoked marijuana has not proven to have any medicinal value. This is a perspective positively and directly in conflict with the American Medical Association. The AMA, the largest physician organization in the county, has declared that there is indeed medical value to pot, and they have called for the reclassification of marijuana to allow for the development of new drugs.
The Schedule I Classification of Cannabis Is a Lie – the Science Says So
The present classification of cannabis as a Schedule I substance under federal law, means it isviewed legally as lacking any therapeutic value and possessing health risks on par with those of heroin. This mis-classification is no longer a subject of legitimate debate – like global climate change.
This mis-classification and mis-characterization of marijuana is no more scientifically accurate and tenable. The University of California did a 12-year study that was FDA-approved and cost millions of dollars; it concluded that results of their study on smoked marijuana indicate that it can be useful in pain management and other benefits.
Dr. Igor Grant of UC San Diego, the program director, summarized what the UC Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research concluded in the May issue of Open Neurology Journal:
Based on evidence currently available, the (federal) Schedule I classification (of cannabis) is not tenable; it is not accurate that cannabis has no medical value, or that information on safety is lacking.
Response of Medical Community
The American Medical Association, in stating in 2009 that marijuana has medical value, voted overwhelmingly in favor of calling for the reclassification of marijuana to allow for the development of new drugs, and issued a report with claims that:
“smoked cannabis reduces neuropathic pain, improves appetite and caloric take especially in patients with reduced muscle mass, and may relieve spasticity and pain in patients with multiple sclerosis.”
A recent scientific study published in Open Neurology Journal in June 2012 states that the placement of marijuana atop the Drug Enforcement Agency’s schedule of controlled substances – a category reserved for drugs that have no medical value – is “not accurate” and “not tenable”. Scientists instead found that while marijuana has some potential for abuse, “its profile more closely resembles drugs in Schedule III (where codeine and dronabinol are listed.)” “The continuing conflict between scientific evidence and political ideology will hopefully be reconciled in a judicious manner,” they added.
A good part of the scientific community favors legalization. Consider the following scientific aspects of cannabis – we’ll never hear this from the mainstream corporate media:
- Cannabis use is associated with lower mortality risk in patients with psychotic disorder;
- The enactment of statewide medical marijuana laws is associated with fewer incidences of suicides;
- The effects of cannabis smoke on the lungs are far less problematic than those associated with tobacco;
- Cannabis use is associated with only marginal increases in traffic accident risk.
Among election campaign gurus, it’s been fairly common knowledge for awhile that if there’s one group that’s a key demographic for pr0-marijuana advocates, it’s young voters. A 2010 Newsweek survey found 64 percent of all young voters are more likely to vote if marijuana is on the ballot. A poll in Oregon demonstrated that more young people were likely to vote for a pot-related initiative than the race for governor, up to almost one third of those polled.
Getting the youth to the voting booths in November is certainly a Democratic Party national goal, as historically, young people vote for that party. But now we have their issue: pot, and if the President came out in support he would ensure their vote. Even before the 2010 elections, there was mainstream speculation that the Democrats were looking to the pro-pot youth vote to pull them to victory in the 2012 election. Back in 2010, California’s Proposition 19 was being held up as an example for other states to emulate in their efforts to stimulate the youth vote.
Ocean Beach voters – often very youthful – came out strongly for Prop 19 in 2010, and OB precincts had some of the highest proportion of voters backing pot legalization from throughout the City of San Diego.
Yet California votes rejected the herbal legalization measure in 2010, even though young people voted for it 2 to 1, according to the LA Times:
Support was strongest among voters between 18 and 24, who went for it 64% to 36%. Voters between 25 and 29 narrowly backed it, 52% to 48%. But voters under 30 made up just 13% of the electorate, about the same as is typical in a midterm election. In presidential election years, these voters are at least 20% of the turnout.
It should be noted that more California voters supported Prop 19 than they did the Republican candidate for governor.
The implication is clear: if pro-pot initiatives are on the ballot, more young people vote, and they tend to vote Democratic. And if President Obama came out publicly and authorized the legalization of pot or at the very least, advocated for its legalization with definitive policy pledges, the young people would vote for him – and he would win.
We’re not the first to believe this could happen; some even think Obama has legalization up his sleeve for an October Surprise. (Here is one guide to whether pot politics could make an impact in the swing states considering new marijuana rules.)
The American people have changed; the tidal turn in opinion on the legalization of marijuana has finally matured – most believe it is okay to have it legal. Pot reform laws will be on the ballots as state legislators respond to the change in voters’ minds on this issue. The leaders of the countries on the front lines of the failed Drug War call for legalization of personal use. The medical and scientific communities clamor for its legalization.
Because it is time for Obama to live up to his 2008 campaign promise, it is time for him to get in tune with the shift in attitudes about marijuana with the public and even state legislators, it is time for the costly and largely ineffective War on Drugs to end, and it is time to allow for the public consumption of an organic herb and not allow another generation to go down the road of ugly substitutes.
President Obama – legalize marijuana and you will get the vote of young people across the country – and you will win the 2012 election and achieve a second term. It’s that simple.